Notes

All quotes are from Neil Gaiman's "Fragile Things" story collection, and I've borrowed heavily from the TNG episode 'Parallels'.

I've also broken my own rule of not posting WIP fics. This one isn't quite finished (but it will be).

Thanks

I was lucky enough to score three amazing betas for this story, so this is dedicated to Mary S for her eagle eye and incredibly speedy editing, OPKYJ for hauling me out of a few massive plot holes, and LittleObsessions for her lyricism and for always making me smile.

Warning

Dubious consent elements in a couple of chapters.

Disclaimer

Paramount built the amusement park. We just play in it.

Fragile Things

by Mia Cooper

1. Every Day Is Freshly Ground

Stardate 51130.2

I remembered something somebody had once said to me: It's okay. Every day is freshly ground.

Janeway ducks into the Tereshkova, unsurprised to find her first officer already seated at the helm. "I see you've taken the driver's seat," she comments drily, settling herself at the science station. "Try not to crash the shuttle this time, understand?"

Chakotay sends her an exasperated glance. "You do realise it doesn't actually count as my fault if I crash because I get shot down, don't you?"

"Doesn't it?" She widens her eyes. "Well, try not to get us shot down today then, Commander."

"Don't worry, Captain," Chakotay replies with mild sarcasm as they clear the shuttlebay, swooping into a showy turn so he can grin through the viewscreen at Paris, manning Voyager's helm. "It's a routine supply mission to an uninhabited M-class planet with no unpredictable weather patterns or atmospheric anomalies. I think I can confidently say we won't be crashing or getting shot down today."

The captain affords him a dark look. "You realise you've jinxed us now, don't you?"

But she can't help letting the corners of her mouth quirk up as he grins at her.

She's been both fearing and anticipating this mission. She'd insisted, over Tuvok's objections, that she and Chakotay team up, in the hope that spending some time together might help mend their friendship.

So far, she's hopeful. Their banter feels a little forced, a little overstated, but at least they're both trying.

"Course laid in and engaged, Captain. We should reach the planet in about three hours at warp four."

"Acknowledged."

Locking the science station into a broad range sensor sweep – standard practice on Voyager away missions these days, when, in unknown and potentially hostile space, every second of forewarning might count – Janeway gets up and heads to the replicator, keying in her coffee order. Chakotay snickers.

"Something funny, Commander?"

"Seven minutes," he answers. "I think that may be a personal best."

She looks at him, perplexed.

"You made it seven minutes out of the docking clamps before getting your first coffee," he elaborates. "Last time we went away together it took you at least eleven minutes."

She pretends to look outraged. "I had no idea my personal habits were such a topic of interest to you, Commander. Perhaps we should go away together less frequently."

"You can run, but you can't hide," he grins.

Janeway returns to her station and leans back in her chair, swivelling in his direction.

"What?" he asks, feeling her eyes on him.

"I was just wondering how you're doing these days."

Chakotay turns to face her. "Doing?"

"After the Vori," she says hesitantly. "I know you've been counselling Tom and B'Elanna after their near-death experience, not to mention Neelix and the Doctor since we lost Kes. But you went through something soul-shaking barely a couple of weeks ago, Chakotay. Who do you talk to?"

"I'm all right, Captain," he answers, but the smile fades from his face.

"Are you?" she asks. She leans in to place a gentle hand on his arm.

He takes a quick breath and draws back. "I'm fine."

"You used to talk to me," she says quietly.

"You've been busy. Seven of Nine –"

"- has been taking up all of my spare time," she finishes for him. "I know. It's my fault you and I aren't as close as we used to be. The deal with the Borg –"

"- was your call to make," he interrupts. "And we've had this conversation."

"But you're still angry with me."

"I'm not angry," he says abruptly.

Janeway meets his gaze.

"Not with you," he says, softer. "You're right, though. Things aren't … we aren't the same."

She knows he's right. They splintered over the Borg alliance, and her own preoccupation with helping Seven acclimate to life outside the Collective has driven the wedge further between them. And then they'd just been starting to make peace, resurrecting their weekly dinners and talking more easily, laughing together more freely, when Chakotay was kidnapped by the Vori and brainwashed into killing their enemies. Since then he hasn't been the same. He's been withdrawn, silent, preoccupied with thoughts of death and anger and despair, and she knows she hasn't tried hard enough to reach him.

She misses him, and it hurts.

"What can we do?"

Chakotay can't recall ever hearing her sound so defeated. Reaching over, he rests his hand on hers. "I don't know, Kathryn. But you … our friendship is important to me. We'll figure it out."

She smiles back at him, and then the shuttle pitches sharply and her smile disappears.

"What was that?"

Chakotay has already turned back to the helm. "Some kind of energy surge –" he begins, but he's cut off by another lurch. Several consoles spark and lose power.

Janeway punches the button to activate the comm system. "Tereshkova to Voyager."

~Tuvok here. Go ahead, Captain.~

"We've been hit by some kind of energy discharge," she answers, rapidly running sensor sweeps. "I'm detecting a tachyon signature. Main power is failing. We need –"

She stops, hearing the unmistakeable whine of an energy build-up in the EPS relays.

"Take cover," Chakotay yells, but it's too late.

There's a sizzle and a crack of white light as their consoles explode, followed by ripping, horrifying pain. Janeway collapses to the deck. Blinded, she reaches out for Chakotay, but before she can touch him, she's engulfed in blackness and silence.

(TBC)